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Pre-Famine Ireland: Social Structure Copyright © 2000 by Desmond Keenan Hard copy of book available from and

Chapter Twenty Four

              Education I

 Summary of chapter. Education was traditionally associated with the Churches, but it was also in the nineteenth century seen as something in which laymen could have a place. The clergy of all the Churches strenuously opposed this view. For various reasons the Government in Ireland got drawn into assisting in the provision of schools, and invariably tried to ensure that bodies which received Government money should be managed on inclusive and non-sectarian lines. It had scant success. In fact, it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that it managed to establish technical schools unconnected with any Church.

(i) General Considerations

(ii) Educational Theories

(iii) Primary Education before the National Schools

(iv) Other Schools Connected with the Churches

(v) Secondary Schools: Boys

(vi) Secondary Schools: Girls

(vii) Technical Schools

(viii) University Education


(i) General Considerations. 

            The subject of the history of education is interesting in itself. But study of this particular period shows how the relentless campaign waged by the Catholic clergy on the subject of education originated.  

            The subject of education is a very complicated one. Since the Middle Ages it has been pursued at three levels commonly called primary, secondary, and tertiary. Often it was left to private individuals, but often too Governments and the Churches were involved. Nor was there ever a consensus about the meaning of education or about what should be taught in schools. Education was of enormous importance in early nineteenth-century Ireland. We are concerned only with formal education in schools, not with the craft skills taught to apprentices in the various professions and trades. 

            In general, we may say that primary education was concerned with the teaching of reading and writing. Religious schools or teachers often added the teaching of religion. Secondary or grammar school education was chiefly concerned with the teaching the grammar of the Latin and Greek languages. There were also some mercantile schools that taught arithmetic and book-keeping, and these subjects could also be taught as extras in grammar schools. Girls' secondary schools could teach Latin, but modern languages were often found more appropriate as girls did not attend universities. Tertiary education was taught chiefly in universities, but lawyers and doctors had their own professional training. In the universities traditionally philosophy, divinity, law, and medicine were taught, but more modern subjects were added from time to time. [Top]  

(ii) Educational Theories 

            For most schoolteachers teaching reading and writing was just a means of earning a living, but there were some who were considering the theory of education. By the year 1800 the use of schools as an official instrument of proselytising had been abandoned. 

            Considerable thought had been given in the eighteenth century regarding the best method of educating youth. Dr. Thomas Sheridan, father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, opened a school on modern lines in 1757 in which the teaching of English was placed on a par with the teaching of Latin. One of the earliest discussions on the subject that was begun in the eighteenth century concerned the desirability of a 'National system of education'. This phrase had a different meaning from the one it eventually acquired. By a national system was meant one aimed at promoting the benefit of the nation. A compulsory system of education could be devised which would produce better farmers, better artisans, better soldiers, and so on. Adam Smith saw some merit in the proposal, but only for the poorer classes. The Irish Secretary, Thomas Orde, raised the question in 1787 but nothing came of it. The question was again brought before the Irish Parliament by Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and one of the last acts of the Irish Parliament was to approve of it in principle. After the Union the idea was dropped. 

            Edgeworth was however also inclined to favour the contrary principle advocated by Rousseau.  The latter believed that education should be for the benefit of the child, not the state, and no child should be forced to learn what the state wanted to teach him. Edgeworth tried out Rousseau's theory on one of his numerous children but was only partially satisfied with the result. But Rousseau profoundly affected his ideas, and those of his daughter Maria. 

             There was great opposition to Rousseau's theory from the clergy of all denominations for they all believed that man's nature was 'fallen' and that his instincts led naturally to evil not good. (This was not necessarily the view of medieval theologians like Thomas Aquinas but it was almost universal at the time.) The clergy consequently believed in a need to curb vices and encourage good habits. All theorists at the time were however opposed to corporal punishment in schools, though they believed in systems of rewards and punishments. Corporal punishment came back into favour about 1840. 

            At the beginning of the century the Edgeworths became acquainted with the theories of Pestalozzi the Swiss educator, and discussed his methods with him after the Peace of Amiens in 1802. It would seem that though no one theory of education was to predominate in progressive schools in Ireland the ideas of Pestalozzi were the most influential. He believed that education should develop the whole child through physical, moral, and physical instruction. (He never developed the physical education and this was not introduced into schools until later in the century and then under Swedish influence.) He believed that all teachers should be trained in the art of teaching, and he personally trained the first teachers in his schools. He considered that children should not be forced to learn but should be encouraged, and therein lay the art of teaching. Many of his ideas can be found in the principles adopted by the Kildare Place Society and by the National Board. 

            Meanwhile two British educators were developing their rival theories and systems of education, and much debate on education in England was between their respective followers. They were Joseph Lancaster and Andrew Bell and the struggle between them was called the struggle between 'Bel and the Dragon' (Daniel 14; Apocrypha in Revised Standard Version.) 

            Andrew Bell was a High Churchman, who strongly believed that education was primarily for the benefit of religion and so should be placed exclusively in the hands of the clergy of the Established Church. He consequently believed in a national system with the clergy in control. Education he conceived as filling up a child's mind with facts he ought to know, and so believed in rote learning. He thought that children should not be educated above their station. His methods were not well worked out at first, but came to resemble those of Lancaster. 

            Joseph Lancaster believed in religious education but not one directed exclusively by the clergy of one Church. He considered that children of all denominations should be educated together, and given a general Christian education, but that the particular tenets of each Church should be taught by the pastors of that Church. He also believed in giving as much education as possible to each child, and taught arithmetic to all. He looked on the school as the equivalent of a factory for the production of education, and devised a production system with the older children helping to instruct the younger children. His schools were organised on a quasi-military system with a gradation of ranks that caused 'the whole establishment to assume an orderly, animated, and very striking appearance'. Lancaster visited Ireland to explain his views, and these were largely adopted by the Kildare Place Society, and the National Board, especially with regard to the teaching of religion. 

            Most of the clergy of the Irish Established Church favoured the system of Bell, and considered that all education should be placed in their hands. The Irish Catholic bishops who opposed to the National Schools also supported the theories of Bell, but felt that the Catholic clergy should be given the exclusive supervision at least of Catholic children. [Top] 

(iii) Primary Education before the National Schools 

            Primary education was developing rapidly early in the century. There was little educational theory, the aim being to teach the arts of reading and writing, or as it was sometimes put 'the three R's' reading, writing, and religion. 

            A person could only open a school with the permission of the Protestant bishop of the diocese and of the rector of the Established Church, but this was largely ignored in practice. Since 1793 Catholics were allowed to open schools and Catholic and Protestant teachers opened schools in large numbers. The distribution of the schools can be illustrated by the figures of adult literacy in 1841 for the various counties. This indicates the teaching of literacy over the previous forty years. Illiteracy was lowest in Antrim, a very Protestant county where only 21% of males and 23% of females could not read. The highest rates of illiteracy were found in county Mayo where 73% of males and 87% of females were unable to read. 

            In 1823 the Protestant archdiocese of Armagh claimed to have 'parish schools' in 79 of its parishes, but none in the remaining 17. A parish school however just meant one that was officially approved by the rector. There could be other 'pay schools' in the parish, and it is possible that the 17 parishes without official pay-schools were in the southern or Catholic end of the diocese, and there may have been Catholic pay-schools in these. It was estimated in 1825 that there were 10,000 schools in Ireland, less than half of them twelve years old. But the distribution of these schools was very lopsided. In the parish of Bray on the east coast there were twenty schools in the parish (though not all of them were open all the year) and from the data given we have we can make some calculations. The average enrolment in the schools in Bray was 40 pupils. If we took this as a national average we would get an enrolment of 400,000. (Other estimates are ranged from 500,000 to 600,000 - Lyons. A different parish in Louth had 9 schools with an average of 32 pupils.)  As the entire population was about 7,000,000, and assuming that a quarter of the population was between 4 and 14, we could conclude that a quarter of all chidden went to school. The national variation was between 80% and 20% attendance at school, and Wicklow on the east coast was likely to have a higher than average attendance. 

             Dr James Doyle noted (about 1830) that the situation was pretty desperate in Connaught and (the Catholic parts of) Ulster. The correlation between schools and literacy cannot be pressed too far however. Doyle noted that scarcely half of the Catholic children ever attended school, but most of those who did profited little. In the counties of Carlow, Kildare, and Queen's County, nearly all the Catholic children attended school in the summer months, but the schools were mere huts. But Doyle considered that nine tenths of the children of farmers and the better-off in rural areas received very defective instruction from masters incompetent to teach. The children of the very poor received no instruction at all. Doyle considered this typical of Leinster and Munster, and was speaking only of Catholic children. The situation was somewhat better in the towns. In the Gaelic-speaking cottier regions of the West even a penny-a-week school was inconceivable (Fitzpatrick). 

            We have a detailed description of the schools in Bray that provides an illuminating picture of the better schools before the introduction of National Education. Its twenty schools had an average enrolment of 40 pupils. The teachers in 15 of the schools were Catholics. Thirteen schools did not open in the winter. All the teachers had good character references, but none was connected with any Education or Bible Society, and none were trained. One third of the pupils were Protestants. All the schools were pay-schools, and the average income of the teachers came to £16 10/-. Any suitable room or house was used as a schoolroom. The local parish priest regarded a room 20 feet by 15 as adequate for 40 children. Some schools had benches or forms; others lacked these. We can work out that the average cost to parents was about 2½ pence per child per week. A Forty-Shilling Freeholder would not have much change if he had four children at school for 40 weeks each year. (Some religious orders in Dublin managed to run schools at one penny per child per week.) 

            The chief books used were also listed. These included Murray's Reader and Murray's English Grammar, Black’s Classbook and Preceptor, Gough's Arithmetic, Voster's Arithmetic, Goldsmith's Geography, Goldsmith's England, and Jackson's Book-keeping. These were the standard schoolbooks at the time. The Rev Thomas Dyck had invented school textbooks early in the eighteenth century, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century a good range of books was available. The books were all produced haphazardly as private speculations, and the quality of none of them seems to have been good. The children's parents, some of whom were illiterate, provided the books, perhaps buying them from a chapman or pedlar. Other books found in the schools of Bray were Robinson Crusoe, Anson's Voyage, and Aesop’s Fables. (There was a famous list complied over several years of unsuitable books found in schoolchildren's hands. They included The Life of Feeney the Robber and Defoe's Moll Flanders, the Story of a Prostitute.) 

            John Gough 1721-91 was an English Quaker who taught mostly in Ireland. Lindley Murray  1745-1826 of Pennsylvania also a Quaker worked in England, and published an English Grammar and an English Reader. Oliver Goldsmith  from Longford, 1728 to 1774, wrote a History of England and A history of the Earth and Animated Nature.  

            William Carleton gives a long description of what he called hedgeschools. He contrasts them with the parish schools under the supervision of the rector and with the later National Schools, and not always unfavourably. We do not know if hedgeschools were more numerous than the other kind such as were found in Bray taught by serious young men and women. 

            According to Carleton, the hedgeschoolmasters taught a purely secular culture in which religion was not mentioned. The masters were often men of considerable learning, though some of them were charlatans. They all drank heavily, were often drunk when teaching, and were noted for their brutality. They were themselves products of hedgeschools, staying on at school until nearly twenty, and at times were proficient in Latin. The reading and writing of English only was taught. (Irish was taught only in a few schools attached to Bible Societies.) For writing the pupil had to provide his own equipment such as slate and cutter. The school slate survived in Irish schools until the middle of the twentieth century. It consisted of a rectangular piece of blue roofing slate about twelve inches by seven surrounded with a wooden edge. The cutter was something with a sharp edge for marking the slate. When the piece of writing was done the slate was wiped clean. Children who used a quill-pen, ink and paper had to supply them themselves and also a smooth board on which to rest the paper, for the pupils sat on stones or on the ground. The master kept a sharp penknife for sharpening the pens (Carleton). [Top] 

(iv) Other Schools Connected with the Churches 

            There were other schools subject to the Established Church, and receiving grants from the Irish Parliament. These grants were continued after the Act of Union. Once again it was alleged that the public was getting an inadequate return for the monies spent. But when enquiry was made it was found that these schools were by 1800 for the most part orphanages and so responsible for sheltering, feeding, clothing, and teaching each child in their care. 

            An interesting group of these schools were those of the Incorporated Society, the 'Charter Schools'. The schools of the Society were begun in 1733 under the direction of Hugh Boulter, archbishop of Armagh who secured a charter for them. They represented the last attempt by the clergy of the Established Church to convert the Catholics.  The schools were to teach Christian Knowledge, useful trades especially in connection with the linen industry, and also agriculture and gardening, and were to promote a spirit of true religion, labour, and industry (DEP 26 Feb 1734). Reading and writing was certainly taught but not necessarily to all the children.  Schools were to be set up in as many parishes as possible, into each of which about twenty Catholic boys and an equal number of girls would be taken to be educated as Protestants. Despite what was later alleged, Catholic parents seemed to have been eager to get education, or at least food and clothing for their children.  (At least that is what the Protestant papers of the time reported, and there is no particular need to disbelieve the reports.) The children were all to be provided with good clothing, and dry footwear, and were to be instructed in the crafts suitable to rural life, digging the fields, gathering the crops, cutting turf, milking cows, and spinning yarn. After an enthusiastic start they seem to have become moribund. They are interesting for they represent one of the very few attempts to proselytise through education, and also for the emphasis they placed on teaching practical skills.  

            The schools of the Bible Societies were not under the authority of any Church. They aimed at providing a non-denominational education based almost exclusively on reading the Bible. The Societies limited themselves to raising funds for hiring schoolteachers, and the only condition they made was a willingness on the part of the master or mistress to use the Bible as a textbook. The schools were particularly numerous in parts of the West where parents could not afford even a penny a week. They were fiercely resented by bishops like Archbishop MacHale who spared no effort to get rid of them. It should be noted however, with regard to using the Bible as a textbook 'without note or comment' even the bishops of the Established Church felt it was impossible for a teacher to avoid giving his own interpretation, and consequently that the direction of properly trained and ordained clergymen was essential. 

            Various religious Orders of men and women in the Catholic Church were founded in Ireland or introduced from the Continent in the first half of the century. These usually began by providing cheap penny-a-week schools in town or city parishes. These were often financed from the profitable secondary schools. MacHale hoped to see Catholic primary schools manned by teaching Sisters and Brothers in every rural parish in Ireland, but this was never likely to be feasible. 

            The schools connected with the Kildare Place Society and the National Board will be dealt with in a separate chapter. [Top] 

(v) Secondary Schools: Boys 

            Until the year 1793 Protestants managed all grammar schools for boys but in that year, following the Relief Act, Catholic schools for boys began to appear. At the beginning of the century it was estimated that there were in Ireland 46 grammar schools with a total enrolment of 1,200. If we include schools for girls, and other schools where Latin was taught, the total numbers receiving secondary education was perhaps twice that figure. So the total number receiving secondary education in any given year would be under 5,000. Most of these too probably did not complete a full course of five to six years, but a shorter one of two to three years. We can compare these figures with the total enrolment in 'superior schools' in 1881 and 1911 of 20,000 and 40,000 respectively. 

            The 46 endowed grammar schools were connected more or less closely with the Established Church. The endowments of land had come directly from the Government, or from the Established Church, or from private individuals. Some were established under a statute of Elizabeth I providing for the setting up of grammar schools in the various dioceses. Diocesan schools were established in 18 dioceses. Others were begun under a statute of James I and these were called Royal Schools. They were supposed to be free schools like Eton and Harrow but admitted fee-paying pupils. Others were founded by private charities, the chief of which was that of Erasmus Smith. The Bluecoat Hospital in Dublin was founded under Charles II to provide education for the sons of poor freemen. 

            The basic course of instruction consisted of Latin and Greek, but other subjects like arithmetic, belles-lettres (English literature), or modern languages, the 'useful and polite branches of education' could be added. These latter could include mathematics, book-keeping, geography, globes and maps, French, writing, accounts, music, dancing, fencing, and drawing. It is impossible to say how many of these were offered in each school, or were offered only as extras. The excessive concentration on the classics was gone. There were no organised games, at least until Dr Arnold of Rugby in England introduced a proper system of physical, mental and moral training. The boys lived in the houses of the various masters, and were looked after by a housekeeper, and were generally left to themselves to organise their own games and studies. Teaching was done in a large room or schoolhouse in which the boys sat ranked according to their forms. Each sat with his Latin or Greek textbook on his knee and translated when told to do so by the master or assistant master.

            With regard to Latin and Greek some of the Protestant grammar schools produced remarkably good results. The standards attained can be gauged by the examinations an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin was expected to face at the end of his first term. They were expected to be able to read two named books of Homer and two of Virgil. This implies a considerable decline in classical studies from the middle of the eighteenth century. Standards in Catholic grammar schools were always lower throughout the century. At mid-century the president of University College, Galway considered that four fifths of those applying ought by rights to be rejected if proper standards were to be attained. (By the end of the century 56% of Protestant male teachers had degrees and 30% of women teachers likewise. Among Catholic teachers in secondary schools the figures were 11½% and 8% respectively (Lyons)). 

            Protestant educationalists like Sir John Newport were concerned that the number of pupils being educated in these schools was not commensurate with the size of their public endowments. (This concern was not confined to Ireland, for in England too at the end of the eighteenth century there were endowed schools with only a few token pupils.) Two successive Parliamentary Commissions investigated the affairs of these schools. These showed that as with all Church lands the return per acre was far below what ordinary landowners received. Still, the royal school in Armagh (1627) had 1,530 acres attached to it, and even if the headmaster got only £1 an acre the revenue would still have been considerable. By 1812 major abuses had been corrected. As a result of the Reports of the Commissioners the Government established a Board of Education in 1812 to supervise the endowed schools. These schools, at every period, provided the best education in Ireland. 

            The Presbyterians had no schools of their own until the end of the eighteenth century when several including the Belfast Academy were founded. The ministers in the various Presbyteries taught Latin to young men aspiring to orders so that they could matriculate in Glasgow university. Thomas Dix Hincks, the founder of the Cork Institution, seemingly the only attempt to provide adult education apart from the Mechanics Institutes, was the leading Presbyterian educationalist.  At the beginning of the nineteenth century a grammar school for boys, joined to a college for students for the ministry, was founded in Belfast. It was the Royal Belfast Academical Institute. In the second half of the century it was to become the main feeder for the new Queen's College in Belfast, the Royal Schools preferring to send their students to Dublin University. 

            The Quakers founded some schools on a non-sectarian basis, including the Friends' School in Lisburn. The headmaster of the latter, John Gough, composed widely used textbooks of English and arithmetic. 

            Catholic schools were made legal by the Relief Act of 1793 and a combined school and seminary was immediately opened in Carlow. Various dioceses and religious Orders also opened schools. The new Jesuit school at Clongowes disquieted the devout Protestant, young Mr Peel, newly arrived as Irish Secretary! On investigation he concluded it was harmless.  By 1848 it was computed that twenty grammar schools for Catholic boys had been constructed. As with the nuns, several teaching Orders of men were founded and they began in the towns providing cheap penny-a-week schools and gradually added secondary or grammar schools. These almost invariably in Ireland taught Latin to boys, though this was not customary with their counterparts on the Continent. These schools of the Christian Brothers provided a pathway for the children of the Catholic lower middle classes to the professions. [Top] 

(vi) Secondary Schools: Girls 

            Advertisements for girls' schools in the eighteenth century stressed the teaching of various branches of needlework. Music, French, drawing, and polite arts were sometimes taught. An article in the Dublin Chronicle  (13 Dec 1791) was severely critical of the kind of education being provided for girls. It said it was much inferior to that given to boys. The teachers were virtually illiterate, being ignorant alike of manners, books, and men. The girls were cooped up in a room and given no physical exercise. The curriculum consisted mostly of needlework, and the girls were mostly taught neither languages nor science. Standards probably remained low in girls' schools until women were admitted to university.  

            The education of girls was a subject Maria Edgeworth together with a Scottish contemporary called Elizabeth Hamilton who was also influenced by Pestalozzi devoted much attention. The consensus of opinion at the time was that girls should be educated to a standard sufficient to make them fit companions and assistants of their husbands in whatever walk of life they found themselves. A woman should not be a helpless creature but should be able to manage her household, and even to assist her husband or brother with their affairs. (It should be remembered that the great Whig aristocratic ladies played an important part in national politics. See also Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice passim where Elizabeth Bennett is depicted as a lady of education, sense and judgement. Jane Austen's father allowed his daughters to browse freely through his library and teach themselves.) 

            It is quite difficult to get information about girls' secondary schools other than convent schools. Information on other methods of teaching girls as for example by means of governesses is still more difficult to come by. Thom's Directory for 1844 lists the names of about a hundred 'seminaries for young ladies', but one of these was described as being a 'preparatory school' and the other as being for 'infants'. Secondary schools for both boys and girls were very profitable. 

            Since the Middle Ages convents had always taken in some young ladies as boarders. In the eighteenth century there were only two or three convents left in Ireland educating young girls. Nevertheless, it was customary for Protestant gentlemen to send their daughters to convents on the Continent. We have no idea how many girls, either Catholic or Protestant, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, were educated in this way. As the Penal Laws were not applied to women, about 1780 a Catholic bishop introduced a French teaching Order, the Ursulines, and assisted in the foundation of an Irish Order, the Presentation Sisters, to start schools for Catholic girls. By 1818 the Presentation Sisters had 18 convents with schools attached to them. 

             Many convent schools were founded in the nineteenth century but by 1850 were still only to be found in the larger towns. By the end of the century even the smallest town had its convent school. The average number of pupils in a convent 'superior school' at mid-century was forty eight. The teaching Sisters normally founded a cheap day primary school first, and then added a secondary school. 

            The Ballina Impartial in 1832 carried an advertisement for 'Miss Joynt's Girls' Boarding School' in which geography, the use of the globes (elementary astronomy), drawing, music, dancing, English, French, and Italian were taught. The World in 1840 had an advertisement for 'Mr Creighton's Ladies' Academy' in which English grammar, reading, composition, history, arithmetic especially adapted to household accounts, the globes, and the construction of maps, were taught. Mr Creighton was assisted by his daughter and took day pupils only. Classes were held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and there were no vacations. In the Ulster Churchman, an organ of the Established Church, there was an advertisement for Mrs Elderton's Boarding School for Young Ladies that taught French especially. The latter word probably indicates the limits of Mrs Elderton's own attainments.  

            A lady writing in the Farmers' Journal in 1816 considered that a governess ought to be able to teach French, history, geography, the globes, arithmetic, and needlework. A household which employed a governess would also probably employ special teachers, coming on particular days, to teach music, dancing, and elementary drawing. Though it does not seem to have been formally taught, the study of botany and nature in general on Linnaean principles was a favourite recreation of ladies in the nineteenth century. [Top] 

(vii) Technical Schools 

            There was really only one which qualified for this description and that was the Drawing School established by the Dublin Society. It was long associated with the West family. In 1848 it was re-organised as the School of Art and Design. It had taught design for over a century but teaching stone carving to ornament the Customs House had no relevance for the linen industry. [Top] 

(viii) University Education 

            The standards of university education in Ireland seem to have been maintained at a reasonably high standard, and not to have suffered a decline like that in Oxford in the eighteenth century. Until the middle of the nineteenth century there was only one university in Ireland. There was however, at the end of the eighteenth century criticism of the excessive memorising of disparate and antiquated textbooks especially by those who aspired to be fellows. Attached to it was a printing press that produced nearly nothing. The fellows of the College were noted for not writing books.  

            The University of Dublin, founded under Elizabeth I had only one college, that of the Most Holy Trinity. In 1820 this college had 1634 undergraduates compared with 4,102 in all the Oxford colleges, and 3,958 in all the Cambridge colleges. Admissions were around 200 a year of whom 30 were Catholics. Gentlemen sent their sons to get degrees even though it was known that there would not be jobs available for them. All the professions, including the Church were overstocked relative to the market. 

            It was founded originally to teach the usual medieval subjects, arts (philosophy), divinity, law, and medicine. Gradually other subjects were added beginning with botany (practical agriculture) in 1711. Mathematics, history, oriental (Middle Eastern) languages, and modern languages were added in the eighteenth century. A professorship of anatomy was also instituted. The first half of the nineteenth saw the introduction of natural history, political economy, moral philosophy, the Irish language, and engineering. (See also under Medicine). It had a famous library that was however closed to undergraduates. The books they need were provided in a small undergraduate collection.  

            At the end of the eighteenth century the Presbyterians made more than one attempt to found a university in Ulster. From 1830 onwards it was felt that Ireland should have at least one more university, and that the course should be modelled on the modern practical course pioneered by University College, London, and that it should be situated in a predominantly Catholic city like Cork. This latter provision would ensure that Catholic students could more easily attend, and that a Catholic atmosphere would surround them.  The same reasoning led to the conclusion that there should be a third university situated in Belfast particularly for the benefit of Presbyterian students. Peel, rather ill-advisedly, decided on three new colleges, leading inevitably to a fall in standards. 

             The reaction of the Catholic clergy followed the same lines as the reaction to the National Board, but this time opponents in the Catholic hierarchy outnumbered supporters. At a National Synod held in Thurles in 1850 they condemned the Colleges and the Holy See confirmed their decision. The condemnation was not absolute and directly affected only the clergy. Some Catholic laymen continued to send their children to the new Colleges. In Belfast, the Presbyterians were satisfied with the College there, and it became, as it was intended their College. The numbers attending Belfast College dropped from 567 to 347 between 1880 and 1900. Those in Cork fell from 404 to 171 in the same period, and those in Galway from 208 to 83. By 1901 the total numbers attending university in Ireland totalled 3,200 of whom about 1,000 attended Trinity College (Lyons). In addition, some Irish students attended British universities.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.